Thursday, January 2, 2014

Buck Rogers 1.3 and 1.4: “Planet of the Slave Girls”

Airdate: 9/27/79

Flying back from the stargate, Buck and Wilma Deering encounter brusque Major Duke Danton (David Groh), who immediately resents Buck’s hotshot attitude. The two become even more antagonistic when Wilma assigns Buck to train Danton’s cadets, 20th century style, but all that becomes secondary when an epidemic of a nerve disorder spreads among he Directorate’s fighter pilots. The culprit appears to be poisoned food discs, but the search for an antidote is stymied when the head researcher’s computer is destroyed by a fleeting saboteur, believed to be one of the female research assistants. Buck and Wilma journey to the planet Vistula, source of the toxic soy protein, but there they discover that the governor (Roddy McDowall) is purchasing slave labor from a messianic leader named Kaleel (Jack Palance), who is brainwashing the masses and destroying the insurgents with his special powers that feed on fear. One of the slaves, Ryma, helps Buck and the others uncover Kaleel’s plot, which also includes using a massive starship fleet to destroy Earth’s immobilized forces. It becomes a race to the finish summon up the Directorate’s few remaining fighters and send them to attack Vistula’s, as well as find Kaleel and help the revolutionaries and his oppressive reign. Buck goes face to face against his evil nemesis, but Mr. “Believe It or Not” is no match for the fearless time traveler.

Follow-up to the two-hour pilot is yet another two-hour episode, the start of the series proper. Many veteran-actor supporting roles are clearly outshined by the campy presence of Jack Palance – his mind-controlling scenes are just too brilliant to resist; I mean, this is overacting at its finest. In keeping with the show’s (so far) tone of cheese and beefcake quasi-exploitation, we get some pretty saucy scenes of skimpy and skin-tight outfits, but the highlight is the “prison” where Buck, Wilma and Ryma are incarcerated. So steamy it essentially becomes a sauna, it provides the perfect excuse for sweaty skin baring and Wilma’s hair to lose its hairspray and hang limply to her neck. But hey, I’m not complaining – I’ll even excuse Buck’s ill-advised but somehow successful plan of standing on a bomb in the hopes that it will project him upwards so he can crawl out through an escape hatch. 

TV Guide Promo  9/27/79
The Star Wars rip-off trend also continues, and in this episode we get pretty obvious Jawa copycats when Buck and Danton are in the desert (can you say Tatooine?). And the final squadron attack on Vistula is pretty derivative of Wars’  X-Wing attack on the Death Star; we even get Twikki suiting up to fight (a la R2D2’s tagging along with Luke). But the show is also developing some of its own, unique elements. Buck’s potential romance with Colonel Deering is appealing, particularly given their charming chemistry. And in this episode we get a bromance between Buck and Major Danton, played by none other than David Groh. That’s right: Rhoda’s ex-husband is a future space pilot. The funny thing is, his character here is not too far removed from that on Rhoda: rough exterior, but a real softie underneath. Not sure if his role continues in this series, but it would be a nice asset if it did.

BTW: If the slaves of Vistula are men and women, why is the episode called "Planet of the Slave Girls"?  Sounds like they were going for a more exploitative title, a la Roger Corman.

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